Thirteen days before Christmas the sight of a parade of people making their way noisily down through Jamestown, is not unusual for this time of year. However, instead of jingle bells it was Twisted Sister’s, “We’re Not Going To Take It” ringing out from the portable PA speaker being wheeled along in a baby’s stroller, because this was a protest march against the way Covid-19 prevention procedures are being decided for St Helena.
A Plea To Be Heard | by Darrin Henry
I counted 43 people, including safety marshals, who marched to protest the “behind closed doors” manner in which proposals being considered by Executive Council to introduce home quarantine from January, and to reduce emphasis on the mandatory 14-day stay at Bradley’s Camp, as the preferred method of keeping St Helena free from Covid-19.
It is worth noting that on this day, Saturday 12 December 2020, St Helena remains one of the very few places left in the world which has managed to remain completely Covid-free.
It’s a remarkable situation to be in, considering the global toll of deaths registered with the WHO, since 11 January 2020, stood at 1,588,986 as of yesterday. Just yesterday the UK registered 516 Covid-19 deaths in a single day, bringing their total to 63,082 since the first was registered on 7 March. Numbers from the US reveal 287,384 Covid-19 deaths since 3 March (just over nine months ago), with 3,390 recorded in a single day, yesterday.
Marching To Applause
The fear that switching to home quarantine could increase the risk of St Helena’s community being added to those numbers, is what brought people out on the streets of St Helena to protest today.
Many onlookers along the route clapped their support of the 43 as they marched by, and a few more sympathetic to the cause joined the group once they reached the Castle.
Public protest is normally quite a rare occurrence on St Helena. But it’s noticeably on the increase over the last two years. In 2018 we covered a water tariffs protest. Today’s procession marched under the strings of Christmas lights which zig-zagged overhead.
The anger, and often-times violence, that frequently accompanies public demonstrations and protests elsewhere around the world, almost every day it seems, is very different to what we’ve seen here on St Helena. Ours is a much more polite and respectful affair.
Orderly & Polite Protest
For me, the moment that encapsulated the peaceful nature of the protest in Jamestown today, was witnessing Councillor Jeffrey Ellick, one of the organisers of the march, crossing the street and courteously inviting the three counter-protestors to come make their own speech and put forward their own views on the issue. Although the offer was declined, it was a generous gesture of inclusiveness in the process of public debate that I was very pleased to witness.
No one from SHG was at the Castle to receive the protestors and hear their grievances. Members of ExCo and the Governor in Council had been asked to be present but chose not to attend.
A small gathering of onlookers and additional supporters did assemble at the Castle entrance to listen to the speeches and take in this sight of peaceful protest.
A few police officers were present throughout but there was no requirement for them to intervene at any stage.
The protest was led by the Saints Unite group and three Legislative Councillors, Jeffrey Ellick, Christine Scipio and Gavin Ellick.
A 15 Minute March
The march started from the Pilling Primary School playground at 10.48am (18 minutes later than planned), proceeded down through Market Street, across The Bridge, down Main Street and into the Parade Square, finishing at the entrance to the Castle, headquarters of the St Helena Government. The entire march took just 15 minutes.
A series of speeches, some impromptu, then followed, and by 11.30am it was all over.
Afterwards we spoke to a number of those present to learn more and to document their personal motivations for coming out.
Councillor Jeffrey Ellick, Half Tree Hollow
The reason we organised the protest, we had two meetings at Half Tree Hollow Community Centre, the last meeting something like 121 people were present. And they pretty much gave a mandate that if Executive Council refused to reverse the decision on home quarantine, they wanted a protest. So we are following what those people have asked us to do.
As a member of council, somebody from within the government why are you not making a change from within?
I’m one out of 12, Christine, myself and Eddie against nine. They have their views and they are heading down one way, they are not listening to what other people had to say. We were put here to represent all the people of St Helena. When they (the public) asked to have meetings, we had meetings. The whole island was invited, those people turned up. As they turned up, they gave us a mandate so I feel that it’s my responsibility to represent my constituents. If you look at other meetings that councillors have that we make decisions on, important decisions on St Helena, you’ll have 10, 20, 30 people at meetings and based on that we make big decisions for the island.
We held a meeting and 121 people showed up. And they [the people] said this is what they want. So if we can make decisions based on less people, why shouldn’t we make decisions based on a larger quantity of people?
There is also the argument being made that home quarantine is safer, from your view point why do you not want home quarantine?
With home quarantine, you cannot realistically guarantee that people are not going to breach. If you look at my background, I spent 20 years in policing. Now if I rolled around and think to myself, we can trust everybody on St Helena then there’s something wrong with me. Because the reality is, people are people, humans all around the world, they will at some stage do something they shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes inadvertently. So do you want to put that risk on 4,000 people? For me that’s a no-no.
We are in the right place; we can control things. And like I said to my colleagues is that the people coming in to St Helena know what they are coming in to. They can make an informed choice, but the people in the public who I would say you are imposing this on, because when you put people into home quarantine and somebody breaches, it could affect your other 4,000 people. But those 4,000 people have no say in the matter because they haven’t been consulted on the matter. In Formal LegCo yesterday ExCo members said they are not even going to come see the people, they don’t want to have a meeting with the public, although the public requested it. Why don’t you want to do that?
But they will stand up there in LegCo and say, we need to do more, we need to inform people more, communicate more with people. And yet they refuse to meet with their own people. So if you are saying that, all you are doing is talking. But there is no action behind it. I said in my adjournment debate in yesterday’s Formal LegCo, it’s all talk and no action.
How do you feel today’s protest went? Do you think it will be affective?
The protest march in my view went well, I think we had just about 40 people. It made a statement. And that’s what the people asked for, we’re just doing what the people asked for. What was quite good to see was there were some people who are opposed to Bradley’s quarantine and want home quarantine. They came out and had their voice heard as well, albeit only three people turned up.
Well I think the IEG, ExCo, will make a decision on Monday [14 Dec]. But based on what I heard yesterday, we managed to tease out some information, was that only 26 people can [now] go into Bradleys, safely. So the decision has already been made. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If they don’t agree to it, then you wouldn’t be sending in a plane with only 26 people would you? If you are up front and honest with people, you engage, you can bring people along with you. My colleagues are not doing that. They are doing things behind closed doors. That is not good. I just want them to be up front and honest with people and if that’s the decision we go down with; we’ve got the people with us. But we don’t seem to have the people with us. And I think it is right that we have people in council who challenge them on these things. When you challenge, scrutinise stuff we’ll end up with better decisions. But at the moment when you’ve got people who are not open to that we have big ole bust ups! Which is not good!
Cyril Gunnell, Jamestown
I wasn’t planning to speak here today, but when certain things were spoken about.
For example, it was only yesterday that people learnt [via the Formal LegCo session] that, it was six months ago that the hospital realised that they needed to have a new oxygen plant. But they didn’t have the money, it was going to cost £350,000, we all know if you don’t have the money you can’t buy something. But what they should have done was say to the people, this is the situation, we really need to have an oxygen plant but we don’t have the money.
Talk with the people as if they are not daft! So I had to say something after that and thank goodness it was [Councillor] Cruyff Buckley who actually asked, [in yesterday’s Formal LegCo] why was the delay? Because he’s on ExCo. So, it was only last week that they ordered it, six months have gone down the line. Now it’s going to take until the end of March before it gets here. What can happen in the meantime?
With prioritising the spending of the budget, if it is necessary to have £350,000 to purchase a life or death oxygen plant then it is the councillors who prioritise the budget.
That’s why I felt compelled to actually say something because I’ve been to a couple of these meetings and I’ve heard what people say, and what the public don’t know, the public who weren’t at these meetings is that the people in the meeting they actually wanted a general election. But they understood that if we had a general election now it is not the right time to have it. So another option would be, what they are doing now. But they really wanted in the beginning to have a general election so that you can vote people out. But they understood it’s not a good time to have a general election with the budget being discussed at the moment, with the governance proposal coming in, and various other things and if you had a general election there is a purdah period and things are put on hold, then you’ll have the governor and the administration in charge. And they can do untold problems in that time.
What did you think about the slogan today, ‘No 24-hour surveillance, no home quarantine’?
I asked Jeffrey about that, he said what we’re saying is unless we have 24-hour security [for home quarantine] we can’t go along with it. That was something that was discussed in the public meeting, they were saying if you have 24-hour security, it doesn’t matter where it is you want to have this home quarantine, if you have robust monitoring and so on, then maybe can go along with that. Maybe Bradley’s isn’t the right place, but on the other hand it is the place that was put in place for that. I can understand that Bradley’s isn’t ideal you know but it can be improved.
And I don’t have anything really against any place other than Bradley’s I’ve got no problem with that but there must be 24-hour security and robust monitoring and so on.
So why do you feel like that because the pro home quarantine’s say we should trust our people?
That is true too, but we all learn from what we see. And the only thing we can see is what happens in other parts of the world, and we see that the rules are breached all the time. I don’t know whether St Helenians are any different to that, I don’t know, we are all human beings. It only needs one person, if somebody does breach and something goes wrong it is really too late then to say, well we ought to have done so-and-so. That’s my view on it.
We can understand that you want to hug somebody, it is the right thing to do.
My son tested positive in the UK and I sat down on my bed and I cried because I wasn’t there for him. Fortunately, he came out of it. Fortunately, he’s young and didn’t have underlying illnesses so he actually came out of it. But it was a difficult time for me and I wouldn’t want to wish that feeling on anybody. And especially being so far away.
So to want to go and hug is a natural thing to do, but just one hug, just one kiss is all that it probably would take to pass on the killer disease.
Councillor Gavin ‘Eddie Duff’ Ellick, New Ground
We went to a meeting in Half Tree Hollow a couple of weeks ago, the people asked us to ask ExCo to change their mind on the decision they were making for home isolation. They said that they wanted us to write a letter first and try and make a decision change, if not we will protest, hence that’s why we are here today.
Plus, as a councillor for me when nothing had changed they keep making these changes. Nothing else had changed in the world, but down here we keep making changes. It’s like the whole world trying to get away from Covid and here we’re trying to bring it in. We don’t have enough security, enough facilities for home quarantine, if we had all those things in place, maybe I would agree. But by not having those things in place I can’t agree on this.
People keep saying look for evidence, I know, people who actually arrive on the ship, drive from the ship to their house and nobody actually accompanies them. They just drive at their own will, we have to hope that they just go home.
As a councillor, in conversation with your colleagues what is the feeling away from the microphones?
This is what I couldn’t understand, everybody in that room all disagreed, ExCo and all councillors disagreed on home isolation because Dr Essex pointed out we needed all these things in place. But we need the cohesion of people to get together to make sure if we’re going to have this, everything must be put in place. That never happened. The last meeting, we went to was on the 10 November, (the one I allegedly was supposed to have not attended by the Governor) everyone in that room said ‘no to home quarantine.’ It started off as a meeting with the officials from Public Health and all elected members, the officials left the room, we then debated, we all came to the general consensus, no we didn’t want it.
We (LegCo) left that room, that meeting, more officials went back in there after us, and then three days later – home quarantine [approved by ExCo]. Now, if they wanted to change their minds, which is their right to do because they are ExCo, why shouldn’t we have been notified?
This is the problem on this island, everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. What I mean is, every time they make a decision about anything, they try to keep it to themselves instead of letting the people know, and get them on board right away. The communication on this island from government to our people is rubbish. And I’m part of that, as I’m part of the government.
Why do you think ExCo changed their minds three days after agreeing ‘no home quarantine’ with the rest of LegCo?
I’ve heard through the grapevine, I’m not a 100% sure, but I think they said the Governor said we wouldn’t receive any FCO funding. That if they didn’t comply or go along then it would be consequences for us here.
Now I have heard that as a rumour, I have asked my fellow councillors that question, nobody wants to tell me; what did the Governor say, what did the administration say?
We as Elected Members are supposed to make island policies but I think it’s made by somebody different. Sometimes when you go sleep you wake up and all of a sudden something’s happened but you had no part of it. And then you [points at Darrin] as a constituent want to know why, and I don’t know!
Because there is too much hiding behind corners and all that.
If we want to have a democratic, free society then we must be free. We must be able to go out and say to people, look we’re going to do something, this is the outline of what we’re going to do, please come on board or tell us your ideas. Then we go back and make a proper decision. Just like today, having the opposition here would have been nice, then we could have had a balanced view.
Olive Brown, Jamestown
I felt compelled to speak because they are putting people’s lives at risk and really I can’t see that there’s any need for it. What are we going to gain by it?
I know money’s short, it’s costing money but if the virus gets here it’s going to cost even more. As far as I can make out the hospital facilities at the moment, in spite of all the money that they were given to prepare for the Covid, we are not prepared to cope with it really. I mean Dr Kamar said in the newspaper, they had facilities for two intensive care patients. Two? Only two?
And now I hear about the oxygen supply and they are still thinking that they can go ahead and do self-isolation at home. The risk is too great. Much too great.
Why do you think the risk is too great?
Because human nature tells us that you cannot take everybody at their word. There’s always going to be the people who will not abide by the rules and regulations. It’s happening in England and America and in Europe, it is happening there where they are watching people dying from this thing. But they still think that they know better and it doesn’t affect them, they can go out.
We only need one person to be thinking like that. We’ve already had two people who’ve broken the rules and fortunately up until now we’ve been very lucky. But we’re pushing our luck.
And the other thing, I think at this stage there is no need for this because now that the vaccine has become available I feel in another six months or so, they can probably start thinking about it but right now? No!
And I think, it’s for whose convenience that they’re doing this? It’s not for us.
Those pro home quarantine people who were there today, saying this protest is not in their name and they feel that people should be able to come their own island and self-isolate at home and we should be able to trust them, what do to say to that?
Yes, we should be able to trust them but unfortunately human nature being what it is, you can’t.
We know there is always that one person who thinks they know better, and when you’ve been around long enough you know that! There is always somebody who thinks they know better and that’s what’s putting us as risk. Just one person can cause havoc. And we are just not equipped to cope with it.
Mark Coleman, Deadwood
I’m here today to support, my family, myself and the rest of the people to be safe from the coronavirus, especially our borders. Also the home quarantine issue and having better security if they really want to do this. But, they don’t have 24-hour security, and that’s why I’m here today.
What would you like to see happen?
Is to stop the home quarantine and use Bradley’s, after they’ve spent all that money to make it and ourselves safe, we can sleep better because we know we’ve got security at that building, you feel safe and can enjoy life. On this little island we can really get ourselves really secured.
There’s no ExCo here to receive the protest today, do you have any message for them?
Well they have really disappointed me, I’ll have to think next time who I’m voting for.
Peter Young, Ladder Hill
I’m very afraid of this home isolation because it’s not being monitored fully and in my view, what I’ve been observing, there’s a lot of activity after midnight from these home isolations.
Yes, I have witnessed it myself. I’ve been around a few places after 12 and there’s been a lot of activity. People in and out of the houses, visiting and even people who were in quarantine leaving the premises. I haven’t reported it because they will tell you, you have no evidence, and I don’t have any evidence because I don’t have a night camera. But I think it’s very scary.
I get up and watch Sky News 5 o’clock every morning and it’s scary the numbers over there. If we’re talking about it coming here, it’s going to be a very scary thing for us.
As for our Health Directorate who we’re getting information from, they say it’s the experts, our Health Director, he’s comparing AIDS with Covid in his last speech, we have no help in the matter.
How do you think the protest went today?
Really good, I was looking for more numbers, but those who were here, did their bit.
Any message to members of ExCo and government administration?
Show up, show yourselves and listen to the people. 100% they are not doing it now. But hats off to these guys here, they’ve done a really good, swell job.
Do you think the protest today is going to make a difference?
No, it’s not going to make a difference, because they are not going to listen. It’s just like last Wednesday out at the airport, it makes no difference, unless something drastic happens. Like the Governor jumping out like a bulldog. There’s nobody here present today but us and the half a dozen the Governor was talking about over there supporting home quarantine, he got his numbers wrong.
Adam Cranfield, Longwood
I don’t support home quarantine. I think we’re putting too much trust in the people.
I’d like to ask the Executive Council who’s making the decision, if when they leave home mornings, if they lock their doors? Or if they take their keys out of their car? For the simple reason, is that they do, because they don’t trust their own Saints. Not all of us, but some of us can’t be trusted. And they will break rules.
I also feel that a lot of the council now are pretty much like puppets and the Governor is the puppeteer. And unfortunately Eddie, Christine and Jeffrey, they don’t seem to have any strings to fit them at the moment. But they are there for the public.
They are talking about statistics now and worrying about how many percent of the people come out and speak and stand up for themselves, those are the statistics that put those councillors there. They need to come out at least and hear what we have to say.
Do you think the protest will make a difference?
I don’t think so because they already made their decision. But at least we’ve tried. And I hope when they look back at it, they will see the faces that did try.
Waylon Thomas, Gordon’s Post
My reason for taking part today is not so much for myself, I’m really mindful of the more vulnerable demographic of St Helena in terms of our diabetic people, the aged, our race really.
And I think that home isolation action from ExCo might be going on Monday could potentially raise the risk, a risk that we don’t really need to be taking with the vaccine potentially just around the corner. So for me it’s an opportunity to tell our government that they just need to be really, really careful.
I know they are telling us that, yes they are, but I’ve listened to some of interviews on radio, formal LegCo yesterday, and I am not personally convinced that Executive Council completely understand all the information that’s in front of them, so for me this is a major opportunity to be able to get my opinion heard. Just by being here today.
Do you think today’s protest is going to make a difference?
I hope it is. But I think it might even be bigger than this Covid issue at the moment. I’m hoping that people who are watching this small procession coming down the road can see that it’s okay to make a public demonstration to voice your own opinions.
And I think St Helenian’s, we are quick to have an opinion but not so quick to have it publicly voiced and maybe the more we do these types of processions the more it might have an influence on ExCo.
But I listed to formal LegCo yesterday, Executive Council saying, no, they haven’t made the decision, they’re going to do it on Monday, so I just hope that some of the speeches made today and the presence of the people here will have some influence on that final decision in connection with all the other information that’s on the table for them.
If ExCo were here to receive the protest today, what would be your message to them?
My [placard] here is all about communication and I think most, if not all of us here, understand that that is what a lot of the decisions that ExCo do, have to made behind closed doors. A lot that we can’t even comprehend but I think this Covid-19 issue is major, something that does affect the whole island.
For me if ExCo had shown up here today I would have gone up and shook their hands because it’s important just to see them here, and important for me to know as a constituent that they care about what I think, what the other people here think.
I think it speaks volumes that they weren’t here today.
But if they had, it would have been a positive step for Executive Council and I certainly would have said to them, please just move around the crowd and listen to what people have to say. Maybe there’s a little golden nugget that they get from someone here that they haven’t been told from their normal chain of advisers.
Merrick Yon, Half Tree Hollow
I don’t really have a problem with home isolation, the thing is, that it was 2.5 million pounds, which is UK tax payer’s money, used for Bradley’s Camp to be refurbished.
I believe, I don’t have any facts, but I believe that a lot of that money has come out for contractors as well. So that was supposed to have been for isolation in case Covid comes here.
Three – four months down the line they’ve said that it can be home isolation for people from Ascension Island. And now two months further you got people from the UK in home isolation. Yes, I can understand if they’ve got kids underage or people who are ill. But anyone else who don’t have any problems with health they should be isolated at Bradley’s Camp. And that’s the problem I have.
They also said that people in home isolation don’t break the rules. They have to be 100% sure about that. The talk around the street, is that some people have broken the rules. I don’t know if it’s true, I don’t have any evidence, but I think that ExCo is denying this saying that the rules are not broken by people in home isolation.
I love and was brought up on country music, and Kenny Rogers sang the the song ‘The Coward of the County’ and I think ExCo members are the cowards of our island. The reason why, they had that choice to come here this morning and for the people to ask them questions, they had the option. Even the Governor had the option to come to the meeting in Half Tree Hollow Community Centre and not one of them did. So I think that it is disappointing.
Do you think the protest today will make a difference?
I don’t think so to be honest with you, but, at least the people can see that something is trying to happen to help the people. This is not an ordinary flu, this is a deadly virus and we want to be safe on the island. Bradley’s to me is the best option.
Also I was at the LegCo meeting yesterday and I was a bit surprised that the oxygen plant that’s supposed to be here on the island was just ordered last week, £320,000 and it won’t get to the island until March/April of next year! So tell me, if the virus gets here, what happens?
And only 24 people at one time can isolate at Bradley’s because of social distancing. So I think they need to get their act together, face the facts and get their act together.
Have you taken part in a previous protest here on St Helena?
No, I just came back from the UK a year ago, this is my first time.
Andy Pearce, Alarm Forest
I’m surprised that ExCo has decided, or rather the IEG, to change their minds and go for home quarantine where only a few weeks ago the whole council agreed there shouldn’t be home quarantine.
There’s already a place, Bradley’s, set up. But the decision was made behind closed doors. And I can’t understand why such a major decision should be made by a group of people in secret.
There may be reasons for home quarantine, but what are they?
There are people that that have asked their councillors and getting no response, so we’ve come here we’re giving a message to our councillors. Three councillors have organised it, there are nine other councillors on the island. Where are they?
We marched down here, to show them what we think, that we don’t support home quarantine. That actually we support discussion, we support democracy! But where are our councillors?
That’s shocking. I can’t think of anywhere in the world where somebody would organise a free demonstration where not one councillor would come here and listen to the alternative view. It’s as if they don’t want to know, it’s shocking, I don’t understand it.
Do you think today’s protest will make a difference?
It must make a difference because it shows that our people who don’t agree with the councillors who have made that decision. What difference it will make, I don’t know, but it has to make a difference.
Raymond Thomas, Longwood
I’m here because I don’t like what the Governor is doing, this home quarantine, I think that’s wrong. I think if that disease ever gets here it will wipe the lot of us out.
How do you feel about Bradley’s, do you think that is suitable?
Well, everybody should go there, the Governor, whoever it may be, should there to isolate. Regardless, blacks and whites, everybody should be on a level playing field.
Do you have personal concerns, like health?
Yes, I have had a heart by-pass, I had four blockages.
No members of ExCo are here today, but what would be your message to them?
Pull your socks up. The bottom line of this is we should vote everybody off, except these three councillors here. Lawson, Derek Thomas and them, all should be voted off.
Comment from two of the three counter-protestors present.
Shayla Ellick, Half Tree Hollow
I’m here today because I support home quarantine, I think we need to treat people like adults and I think if it’s done properly and have strict standards, SOPs (standard operating procedures). If we make sure people follow the rules, we have to give people a chance because how can we not?
Also they keep saying they are speaking on behalf of the public and they represent the public, everybody I speak to, they are not representing them and they (protest councillors) refuse to hear me. So I feel like I would like to be represented too, I’ve written to my councillors, I didn’t get a response from the three that are here today, so I thought I would come along and show them that this is what I want.
The counter protest was a last minute decision this morning, and I did say to anybody if they wanted to join us and a lot of people said they couldn’t make it but they gave us support. So I think that that is quite telling as well.
Zedella Young, St Pauls
I also support home quarantine, I feel that only one side is being represented in this argument and we are here to show that there is another side and that there are people who would like to fight for that side.
Can I ask what your other side is?
That there is some people who support home quarantine, today they are looking at taking back the decision of home quarantine from the councillors, we are here to show that not everyone is supportive of Saints Unite.